Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services


For over 26 years, the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) has gathered information from adults about a wide range of behaviors that affect the health of its citizens. The BRFSS is a collaborative effort between the state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is now the primary source of state-based information on health risk behaviors among adult populations.

The primary focus of these surveys has been on behaviors that are linked with the leading causes of death (such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and injury) and other important health issues.

BRFSS data is used to: determine priority health issues and develop strategic plans; monitor the effectiveness of intervention measures; examine the achievement of prevention program goals and support appropriate public health policy. It is also used to educate the public, the health community, and policy makers about disease prevention and health promotion.

Policy-makers, legislators, researchers, professional organizations, and community-based organizations all need to understand what the data is telling them. InstantAtlas, a data presentation tool, is currently being used Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to produce easy-to-understand online reports.

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New InstantAtlas Essentials video tutorial

Essentials # 8 How to use URL Parameters

This video describes how you can open an InstantAtlas report with specific settings in form of parameters in the report URL. Using this method you can open the report e.g. with a specific indicator and time period loaded, one or more specific geography features selected, a specific filter applied or a different style sheet loaded.

Video Transcript for Essentials #8

Today I would like to show you how you can open an InstantAtlas report with specific setting. For example you might wish to open your report on a particular indicator and date which is different from the default one. Or you might want to have one or more specific geography features selected or a filter applied when the report opens. You can even point the report to a different style sheet which will be used when you launch the report.

This is all done by passing on parameters in the report URL and will only work when the report is up on a web server.

I will show you how this works with this demo report from the InstantAtlas website. I will also open the relevant user guide which tells you, how the syntax for these URL parameter has to look like. This user guide can be found on the InstantAtlas website under Support and then Development zone. Here you will find a link called “Including Parameters in an InstantAtlas Report URL”. If you follow this link a pdf document will open which lists all the possible parameters you can use to open your report with specific settings.

At first I want to show you how you can open the report with a specific indicator and time period selected. I will jump to the section in the user guide which tells me how this can be done. At first I need the URL to my report which is already in the URL bar of my browser and ends with atlas.html. This needs to be followed by a questions mark and the word “indicator=”. In the user guide I can see that I need to type in the indicator id of the indicator I want to have opened when the report launches. The indicator Ids get generated by the Excel or Access Data Manager when the data.xml file gets created. So I will find the indicator ID in this file. This here is a local copy of my report files and if I open the data.xml file and scroll down I will find the list of all themes and indicators of the report. Each indicator has a unique id, so if I for example want to open the report with the indicator “Income Support claimants (%)” I need to pass on the id “i3”. I copy this out of the data.xml file and into the report URL. If the indicator I chose would not have any time periods this would be enough but since the indicator “Income Support claimants (%)” has different time periods the report would not know which time period to open. So I also need to type this information into the URL. The user guide tells me that I need to type an ampersand and then the word “date=” and then the date of my choice. So I copy this part of the syntax into my URL and I want the report to open with the data from 2005 so I add this after the equal symbol. If I know hit enter the report will open with the data for “Income Support claimants (%)” of the year 2005.

Now I want to show you how you can open the report with one or more geography features selected. For example I want the report to have Ward Rampton selected when it opens.  The user guide shows me the syntax I need to use which is “?select=” and then the feature ID. I can find the ID of my map features in the file called geographies.csv in my report folder. I search here for Rampton and find the ID next to it. I copy it out of this cell into the URL and hit enter. The report will now open with Rampton selected in all components. If I wish to select more then one geography feature I can do this by adding the other feature Ids at the end of the URL separated by a comma.

The third URL parameter I want to introduce to you is how you can open your report with a specific filter value applied. In this report I have one filter called Districts and several filter values. For example I want the report to open with the Mansfield District filter applied. To do this I have again a look into the user guide, find the right section and I see that the syntax after the report URL is “?filter=[filter ID],[filter value]”. I copy the first bit into the browser URL bar. The ID of my filter can again be found in the data.xml file. Directly above the theme list I find the filter list which lists all the filter of the report. I just have one filter defined and it has the id “filter4” so I copy and paste this id also in the URL. The user guide said the ID needs to be followed by a comma and then the filter value. The filter value is in my example Mansfield District so I will type this into the URL and hit enter. The report opens with the map filtered and zoomed to this area.

If you have an alternative style sheet which you want to use to open your report you can also do this with URL parameters. In my folder structure, which is the same on my local drive as it is on the web server, I have some alternative styles sheets saved in a folder two levels above my report files. The folder is called style sheets and the style sheet I want to use is the one called “default_pink_2.css”. The user guide gives me again the syntax for the URL: “?style=” and then the path to the style sheet without the file extension. The file extension is .css for style sheets so I need to remember to leave this out. I copy the first bit of the parameter syntax into the URL and then type the relative path to my style sheet. I need to go up two folders so I have to type “../../”, then the folder name which is “stylesheets/” and then the name of the stylesheet without the .css. I will copy this name out of the file and paste it into the URL. If I now hit enter the report opens with a pink colour scheme.

If you want to combine two or more of the URL parameters you can do this by simply adding them together into the URL and using an ampersand as a delimiter. So for example if I want to open my report with the pink style sheet and the Mansfield district filter applied I can do this very easily. I simply copy the style sheet parameter out of my URL, go back in my browser so that I see the url we used to open the report with the specific filter and now I add an “&” and I paste the parameter for the style sheet behind it. Pressing enter opens the report with both URL parameters.

I hope this little video gives you an idea how URL parameters work. The user guide will give you some more information about what you can do, for example you can open your InstantAtlas report  with a specific configuration file loaded or with a specific base geography selected if the report contains multiply geographies.

If you have any questions regarding URL parameters please do not hesitate to contact the Support Team via

Video Tutorial – Learn how to create Public Health Reports with InstantAtlas on Health Service Journal TV

2 thoughts on “Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

  1. Pingback: InstantAtlas Interview with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) « Data presentation, visualization & analysis software for Data Professionals

  2. It’s very exiting to find this blog. I don’t have much to add to the conversation, but I’m right there with you. This post said exactly what I have been thinking. Good to see you posting.

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